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Learning Gourmet

Conde Nast announced that after a sixty-eight year run, it is closing Gourmet Magazine. It’s been reported that the lifestyle it conveyed was too rich for its advertisers and for many Americans during this economic downturn.

Gourmet was for me the smart, chic aunt who owned a well-used passport. She helped me transition from the tv dinners I grew up with, to seek exotic tastes and locales of a bigger, more delicious world than I imagined.

When I started to travel on my own, meals became travel memories. I was a young editor reporting on fashion in Italy when I first tasted truffles—the couture of autumn’s bounty. I discovered there is nothing as ambrosial than when simply shaved onto scrambled eggs or homemade pasta. Al dente pasta replaced the spaghetti I grew up on. Who knew? Gourmet did.

During a cold damp season of shows in Florence, I was warmed by riboletta, the Tuscan peasant style bread soup, served at communal tables in rustic restaurants. The local Tuscan wines were without preservatives and tasted of the rich earth. Who knew delicious food could be so simple? Gourmet did.

A summer salad of avocado, endive and hearts of palm sprinkled with an incredibly tasty olive oil was a signature dish at the fashion canteen, Bice in Milan. It became a regular in my home too. Who shared these faraway restaurants? Gourmet did.

There was the Japanese soup that had been brewing for forty years, surviving World War 11, at a tiny restaurant in Kyoto that one had to be invited to dine at. Reindeer meat in Bergen, Norway—well at least the harbor was enchanting. And who know that warm bread and chocolate croissants from Poilane, a bakery in Paris, could rival any “gourmet” meal? Who guided me to tastes unique to local cultures? Gourmet did.

Indigenous ingredients became souvenirs that I would bring home to share: chunks of pungent crumbly Italian Parmesan, bottles of smoky green olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar from Italy, Zatar, an Israeli herbal blend especially good as a chicken rub, a selection of Lousianna hot sauces, a taste acquired during my many visits to New Orleans when my daughter was studying there, grainy sea salts from Paris that I serve with whole radishes as they do in France. These simple yet powerful tastes became wardrobe classics in my kitchen closet, as black were pants in my closet. They could be the most simple dishes extra special.

Now these specialty items are readily available in our local food markets We no longer need to travel the world to access the tastes of other cultures. Sadly that may have been part of Gourmet’s demise.

I no longer have an expense account to dine out anywhere on a whim, or regularly travel the world on business affording the opportunity to indulge in unfamiliar authentic culinary experiences. And for that matter, I also no longer have the professional or personal need to wear designer clothes 24/7. Sure I still want to look my best, just as I continue to delight in delicious food, but “what’s in” for me now is more about what’s fresh at the farmer’s market (and the comfort clothes I might wear to it) rather than trends.

But Gourmet also taught me about my own country’s cuisine and it’s regional local foods. The briny oysters immediately pulled from Tamales Bay upon order remind me of those I delighted in at La Coupole on my first trip to Paris. The velvety clam chowder chocked with plump clams topped by a slab of butter served at Moe’s, a converted garage on the Oregon coast. Beignets at Café du Monde in NOLA. Alice Water and her revolutionary approach to food—local and seasonal—served up at her restaurant Chez Panisse. Who knew a salad of mixed greens could taste so good? Gourmet did.

Gourmet deserves credit for bringing the tastes of different cultures into our homes. It helped make the world feel like an intimate, bountiful place to live, at least to the generation of us boomers who became foodies. By retiring Gourmet, our world has become a bit smaller. I will miss Gourmet whetting my appetite to see and taste places I may never get to visit. Gourmet gave me the recipes to replicate these dreams in my kitchen.

Its most recent editor is the legendary foodie and writer Ruth Reichl, whose books are as comforting as the best of comfort food. Although, she has been retired from the magazine, I doubt that she is retiring from her passion for food. As Gloria Steinem has been known to say “What would I retire from, life?” I’m looking forward to what she cooks up to serve us next.

As we move into this next part of our lives, we are all recalibrating our priorities, needs and tastes while dealing with new realities. But like those clothes in my closet or ingredients in my cupboard that remain steadfast, Gourmet will always remain a classic.

My most recent favorite recipe from Gourmet is from November 2008—their Thanksgiving issue. To me its like a pair of jeans—egalitarian, resourceful, American and chic simple. It’s not rich for a budget, yet pairs tastes exquisitely, and is also healthy. Without fuss, it can be easily shared with friends and family. Sometimes the best things are found in our own farmer’s market or backyard. Who knew? Gourmet did.

TURKEY CHILI, Gourmet Magazine, November 2008
Serves 6 to 8
Active Time: 20 minutes Start to Finish: 45 minutes

1 large white onion, coarsely chopped
2 bell peppers (any color) cut into 1-inch pieces
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp chipotle chile powder
2 tsp packed brown sugar
1 (28-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice
1 (19-oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup water
2 cups cooked turkey, cut into 1-inch pieces
Accompaniments: sour cream; sliced avocado; chopped white onion; lime wedges

Cook onion and peppers in oil in a heavy medium pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Add spices and brown sugar and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice, breaking them up with the back of a spoon, then add beans, water, and 1 tsp salt and simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Stir in turkey and let stand, covered, until heated through, 5 minutes.

In tribute to Gourmet, please share your favorite Gourmet recipe, too. Read More 
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